The worst of the novel coronavirus pandemic is past us, at least in the United States. What began in China and traveled to the West has now moved on to afflict Third World countries. Latin America, India and South Africa are the latest hot spots for the disease.
Before the issue of racism came to the forefront following the death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd while he was being restrained by that city’s police, the question of how to reopen this region as the pandemic waned had divided people into two camps. One group wanted everything opened back up immediately, while the other urged caution.
The divide gave us a new phrase — mask shaming, where people who favored wearing masks to protect others frequently criticized people who didn’t wear masks. There was no equally popular term used by mask wearers to describe people who don’t wear masks.
Wall Street has recovered from the shutdown, but one question is whether Main Street has. The shutdown isn’t completely over. Restaurants are limiting their indoor seating. Movie theaters remain closed. High school athletes have been cleared by health authorities to resume workouts, but in limited fashion.
As noted in a recent story by The Herald-Dispatch writer Seth Mitchell, the region is ready to shop, play and work again.
“I’m like most people. I’m ready to get back to normal, whatever the new normal is going to be,” Mike Shockley, director of sales at downtown Huntington’s Delta Hotels, told Mitchell. “I’m excited to start seeing travel bans and restrictions lifted and doors opening back up. Downtown’s starting to come back, and so are we.”
In southern West Virginia, the Hatfield-McCoy Trails are open again, drawing visitors from several states.
Yet the novel coronavirus is still with us. The “novel” in its name means it’s new, and the fact it’s new means there is much about it we still don’t know. Already this week, international health authorities have had to admit they are not sure whether or how the virus moves from person to person when the carrier shows no symptoms.
If the experts aren’t certain about exactly how infectious the disease is, what are the rest of us to do?
For one thing, we can be careful. If you want to wear a mask, wear one. If you don’t wear a mask, be mindful of people who do; respect social distancing. There’s no reason to get in each other’s faces over this — figuratively or literally. There are enough stresses in American society now to divide us.
Another is to be ready for more changes. The people who run K-12 education and higher education are planning how to bring students back to the classroom without contributing to another possible outbreak of the disease. Universities are planning changes to their academic calendars to accommodate the need for students to be in class while minimizing the time they must spend on campus.
Public schools will have to decide how to keep children separated in the classroom, on the playground, at lunch and on the bus. It won’t be easy coming up with a plan that satisfies the majority of parents and school employees, and policies in place in August might have to be changed come October.
COVID-19 is not past us. It lingers. Its effects will be with us for a while. We will adapt. The important thing is that we don’t allow it to create another divide that leaves us angry or haughty. We have enough of those already.